Arbitrage(2012)

Arbitrage(2012)

Dir: Nicholas Jarecki

Robert Millar has it all, or does he?

Robert Millar has it all, or does he?

When I was 23-year-old, pursuing an MBA at IMT Ghaziabad, one of India’s top business schools, Rajat Gupta came to campus for the convocation of our senior batch.As he led the procession of graduates I looked at his face. He was unbelievably handsome and wildly successful.He was the head of McKinsey and Co., the elite business consulting firm which would not hire from our campus in favor of the Harvard’s and Stanford’s of the world.He was what each one of us aspired to be, at the top of the corporate ladder, the hands down winner of the rat race (we did not see it in those terms yet), the top dog.And that hero has fallen, convicted of insider trading, sentenced to rigorous imprisonment.He was the embodiment of the great American dream, a bright young boy who lost his father at a young age and worked hard to achieve dazzling success.Today he is a just pitiful symbol of greed and poor judgement.

This film too is a case study of a man called Robert Miller played by the still dashing Richard Gere. He is a big shot in the financial world, a self-made billionaire with a beautiful family. He has a mistress, an art dealer from Paris whom he invested in as a  payment for sexual favors dressed up as a relationship.We see him at work, a consummate dealmakers with the devils own charm.But he is in deep trouble.He is trying to sell his company to plug a big hole in his finances, which has been created as a result of his excessive greed.He will do anything to make the deal happen including falsifying the accounts.The funny thing is he believes he is playing by the rules which are two:1.There are no rules for the super rich and famous like him and 2: Don’t get caught.

Millers breaks his daughters heart.

Millers breaks his daughter’s heart and doesn’t  know he has.

He applies the same rules to his private life.In the middle of the mega merger negotiations he is in need of emotional succor which he does not find anymore from his wife played by the magnificent Susan Sarandon.He decides to take his mistress out for a late night drive, falls asleep at the wheels and she dies in the accident.What follows is a cat and mouse game between him a wily detective played by Tim Roth.Miller approaches this situation with the same smartness he displays at the negotiating table.He holds his cards close to his chest and refuses to blink first.Meanwhile the merger is being expertly stalled by the buyer.In the most entertaining scene in the film Miller closes the deal, smiling through his anxiety, playing poker with the buyer.This scene lies at the heart of the film in the sense that it equates negotiation skills with gambling skills.The picture of Dick Fuld comes to mind who refused very good offers to buy Lehman Brothers only to run it into the ground and trigger the global financial crisis.His arrogance and refusal to play ball caused his downfall and ruined the life of millions.

The debutant director Nicholas Jarecki keeps us engaged in Millers fight to trump the odds and his ability to think smartly under duress and keep up the appearances of a man in control. But in a beautiful ending we find him standing alone, all dressed up but naked in his own eyes.This film is a skillfully constructed case study.The thing about case studies is that they are open to interpretation.They supply the facts constructed as a story and students must bring their own analysis and interpretation to the case.There is no right or wrong solution just good or poor judgement, as in life.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008 a number of good films have been made including the second edition of Wall Street by Oliver Stone  which adopted a more cautious tone rather the “Greed is good” line mouthed by Gordon Gekko,and documentaries like Insider Job.They all point to a seemingly irreversible culture of unlimited greed which gets rewarded with unlimited wealth and fame.The Occupy Wall Street movement which has been a global rallying cry to reform Wall Street and punish those responsible for acts of financial terrorism could not have asked for a  film with a more subtle message.

So whats the price of the good life?

So whats the price of the good life?

The film is constructed like a taut thriller where we cheer on the hero and become a part of his immoral mission but here the ending blindsides us.How you see the film will depend a lot on your unique circumstances but the director wants us to understand the value of family and love as the things we need to value the most in our journey through life.At one point Miller justifies his actions to his wife,”Everything I do is for us, for this family”.Derivatives becomes toxic junk when the underlying asset becomes valueless and in this case if family values are the underlying asset of life then a breakdown in the same family values can trigger a very profound crisis.

In one scene where Robert Miller is trying to buy his way out of trouble, he is told,”You serious? You think money’s gonna fix this?”

Miller replies,perplexed,”What else is there?”.

Plenty it turns out.

#Arbitrage is currently showing in Singapore.



Categories: Hollywood

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